Thinking about writing this piece makes me thirsty. My mouth waters. If I had a bottle, I could collect my drool, label it “water generated by thinking about Moseley Road Baths at Fierce Festival 2014”, and send it to artist Ann Sharrocks to include in her Museum of Water, wherever it may be headed next.
It wouldn’t be the only spit in the collection, which also includes tears, melted glaciers, storm water, tap water, and a stick with memories of water. The specimens have all been donated to the collection as it’s travelled over the past two years, and all include handwritten notes detailing what’s special about each particular sample.
Displayed in wooden cabinets that seem oddly at home among the private bath rooms of the disused Victorian bathing house, the collection is at once museum, installation and performance as each bottle shares its human connection, facilitated through my own imagination and the insights of curators who tend the tiled corridors and re-appropriated bath rooms.
The Grade II* listed building is still in use as a public swimming baths, but the local council have decreed that it’s to close its great oak doors in 2015, and that swimmers must move to a newer facility nearby. Australian artists Laura Delaney and Lisa Stewart have been working with local people since October 2013, developing a series of site specific interventions for Fierce Festival titled Parting Waters.
While the festival doesn’t have a theme to the live art and performance work it programmes, it does have pockets of resonance, and a watery presence is one of them. The festival logo this year dances pinkly on the website in imitation of a liquid surface disrupted by thrown stones then settling back into brief stillness. The Fierce performatives are the stones that will shake us, and send repeating ripples shivering through us as we attempt to return to the way we were before.
I have floated, danced and swum in an antique pool, to the sounds of singing bowls vibrating in and around the poolside, where the lapping of the water’s edge and each person’s smallest movement becomes a part of the soundscape, and we in the pool become a visual representation to the seated and clothed audience above. I felt tickled by the solemn, meditative mode assumed by other participants drifting among the exhuberant beach toys and floats. We are a species who like to take ourselves very seriously, and it feels good to fall outside of that for a moment and notice.
This is the Sound Bath that forms an element of the Parting Waters canon. Local sound therapist Soesen Edan has worked with Stewart and Delaney to provide an experience that brings immersive performance to a literal level. Participants enter the water, strewn with foam floatation devices and rubber rings, letting it and the echoing sounds of Eastern percussion wash over them. I find a pair of goggles on the floor of the pool, which allow me to see the underwater world of legs and torsos. It feels good to spend time in this element without the social expectation of swimming or washing, to explore its effects.
Every splash of collision between festival and guest is unique. My ripples won’t be that of the next person. We all find our stasis disturbed in different patterns. Although the Fierce programme stimulates change, it doesn’t want to direct that change toward a fixed agenda. Fierce plays Pooh Sticks in the flow of normalcy, and we wait to see where we’ll spin to next.